Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Weiss Resolution

City Council Member Jack Weiss recently wrote an opinion piece which appeared in both the Whatcom Indy and the Bellingham Herald. (Click here and here to read these articles which are essentially the same.) His editorial piece was taken from a memo attached to a resolution (AB17904 Resolution Supporting and Enhancing the Implementation of Bellingham's Comprehensive Plan Infill Strategy) to be discussed in the Planning and Community Development Committee of the city council on 14 April. Click here to read the resolution and memo. I can agree with much of Jack Weiss’ memo having to do with increased infill and avoidance of urban sprawl, laudable goals each. However, the memo does not touch on the decades of neglect wherein infill has been achieved mainly by ignoring codes and allowing an unregulated, uncontrolled and unlicensed rental market to call the shots.

Jack Weiss states, “Infill density allows us to better plan transportation to move people instead of cars.” My questions are: Why are you not speaking to the effect of the unplanned and unregulated infill which has been the norm to date? – and - Who did any planning at all for the cars and transportation issues surrounding this covert kind of infill? - and – What will the city do to reverse the effects of this infill? – and – Will the rules and regulations set up to control infill in the future be obeyed any more than the present laws? Mr. Weiss’s call in his resolution, that all this “of course, must be done in a fair and equitable manner”, will fall on deaf ears as fairness and equity on the part of the city seem to have been in short supply so far in neighborhoods plagued with illegal rooming houses where the efforts to enforce our codes are for naught.

Moreover, what will be the guarantees to the neighborhoods and who the guarantors? I have said before in this blog that by their previous neglect the council and the city executives have already lost the trust of those who have had to endure this covertly created increased density and its detrimental effects.

“New housing types, including cottage and carriage housing, townhouses, and detached accessory dwelling units, will be considered in this effort.” Our modern day Pandoras should think twice and carefully about opening the box containing these ideas. Townhouses tend to fall prey to investors who will rent them for all the market can bear. Cottages are beguiling because of the image they can conjure in the mind. Carriage housing beckons with images of fantasy tranquil estate living while accessory dwelling units will tempt the homeowner with visions of dollars.

All of these ideas have some legitimacy but as with uncontrolled and illegal rooming houses, who will police these creations? Our one code enforcement officer?

Furthermore, I hear no call from Mr. Weiss to demand substantive participation from Western Washington University. This institution seems to have boundless energy and funding to find a place at the waterfront but does little to assist, beyond token gestures, in easing the effect of thousands of students each year on rental housing at which time they gobble up single family residences, turning them into rooming houses, distorting the rental market and limiting the choices of those families who cannot afford to purchase a home.

Mr. Weiss ends his piece by saying “It is how we manage change and what values we prioritize. That is our challenge.” I would go one better - What do we do to reverse the effects of the unmanaged change and non-enforcement of code to date?

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